Limonov: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia

Farrar. Oct. 2014. 352p. tr. from French by John Lambert. ISBN 9780374192013. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780374709211. LIT
The subtitle almost says it all. Ostensibly a biography of a Russian radical, poet, revolutionary, and possible "scumbag," this book reads like a Cormac McCarthy novel written by Hunter S. Thompson and John le Carré. One may be tempted to wonder if the Eduard Limonov (b. 1943) presented by Carrère (The Adversary) bears about as much resemblance to the actual as the figures in Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 do to George McGovern, et al. The story of Limonov's life covers much of the Soviet era, beginning in the 1940s and hurtling past the break up of the Soviet Union into the clashes in Ukraine and Chechnya. In the 1990s, Limonov, a novelist of vaguely pornographic autobiographical books and occasional poetry, was linked with Radovan Karadži during the Bosnian war. In 2001 he was tried as a terrorist for attempting to destabilize Kazakhstan. Though Limonov's literary value is never made clear here, Carrère's is. Great at bringing a kind of nihilistic surrealism to his descriptions of major historic events such as the brief Russian coup of August 1991, Carrère is possessed by that same demon that drove Thompson's frenzied prose.
VERDICT The author's aggressively gonzo style often totters between the exhilarating and the overwhelming, but the joy of getting lost in it can be intoxicating. Not an essential book but may be of interest to contemporary Russian studies collections. [See Prepub Alert, 4/27/14.]

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